If you're facing a criminal charge, it's easy to focus on the short-term consequences, including any possible jail time or fines. But a criminal conviction can also have long-term consequences beyond a jail sentence. A criminal record can follow you for years, affecting educational and career opportunities and whether you can get a loan or even rent an apartment. However, in New Jersey, we understand how important second chances can be for many people. That's why New Jersey law allows you to expunge or clear your arrest or criminal record in some situations. An experienced lawyer like Joseph D. Lento, well versed in handling expungements, can make the process faster and more efficient anywhere in New Jersey.
In recent years, the New Jersey legislature overhauled our state's expungement law to make the process more flexible and available for more people. Only a small percentage of people eligible for expungement in New Jersey petition the courts to clean up their records. But doing so is a good way to increase your career opportunities in the future, especially for people unlikely to commit more crimes.
Expungement in New Jersey
While it sounds like a complicated legal procedure, at its core, expungement is simply a legal process used to clear an arrest or criminal conviction from your record. Under New Jersey law, an expungement allows you to extract, seal, impound, or isolate all records within a court, detention or correction facility, or law enforcement agency if the records are related to the “detection, apprehension, arrest, detention, trial or disposition of an offense within the criminal justice system.” N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 (2019).
Records that you can expunge include:
- Criminal complaints
- Arrest warrants
- Processing records
- Index cards
- Rap sheets
- Judicial docket records
These records are often found across state agencies, police databases, and courts. As a result, expungement can be time-consuming and involve a great deal of diligent follow-up work. While you don't have to use a lawyer for an expungement, an attorney experienced in expungements can make the process easier and ensure the expungement encompasses all your eligible records. While an expungement will remove these records from public view, they will still exist. Certain agencies can access them in the future, making consultation with an attorney important to the process.
Expungement Options in New Jersey
In New Jersey, there are several pathways for expungement depending on your record, the number of convictions in your past, and the severity of the offenses. These expungement options include a traditional pathway, an early pathway, and a “clean slate” pathway.
If you have only one indictable offense conviction, you are eligible for an expungement five years after you've completed your sentence. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2 (2019). If you've had two or more convictions for indictable offenses, you may have to wait longer, or you may not be eligible for expunging your record under the traditional pathway.
You can also use the traditional expungement pathway for up to five disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons offenses, if you don't have any prior criminal history. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:52-3 (2019). A disorderly persons offense in New Jersey is the equivalent of a misdemeanor in other states. You can also use this pathway to expunge one indictable offense and up to three disorderly persons offenses under N.J.S.A. § 2C:52-2.
- Indictable Offenses An “indictable offense” in New Jersey is the equivalent of a felony conviction in other states. The traditional expungement pathway allows you to expunge one indictable offense. Alternatively, you can expunge one indictable offense plus up to three disorderly persons offenses. If eligible, you can apply for an expungement five years after you complete your sentence or supervision, including paying all fines.
- Disorderly Persons Offenses Under New Jersey law, you can expunge up to five disorderly persons offenses, including petty disorderly persons offenses. A disorderly persons offense is the equivalent of a misdemeanor in other states. You can expunge these convictions five years after completing your sentence as long as you don't have any other criminal convictions. If you also have an indictable offense conviction on your record, you can only expunge three disorderly persons offenses. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-3 (2019).
- Ordinance Violations You can expunge an unlimited number of ordinance violations under New Jersey law. You can expunge these offenses two years after you complete your sentence, including paying all fines. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-4 (2019).
- Juvenile Delinquency Under New Jersey law, you can expunge most of your juvenile record, except for those convictions that would be ineligible for expungement if committed by an adult. You must wait three years after completing your sentence before seeking an expungement of juvenile offenses. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-4.1 (2019).
- Young Drug Offenders For drug offenders under the age of 18, there is no limit on expungement for the number of charges for the possession or use of a controlled dangerous substance. The waiting period is one year. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-5 (2019).
- Arrest Without Conviction If you have an arrest record but no conviction, you can have these expunged with no limit on the number of arrests. But if you had charges dismissed under a diversion program, there is a six-month waiting period before you may expunge the record.
Early Pathway Expungement
In some compelling cases, New Jersey law offers a shortened waiting period for expungement known as the “early pathway” expungement. A court may grant an expungement in less than five years if the court finds that you:
- Met the waiting period of three or four years, depending on the offense, including paying all fines
- Substantially complied with a court-ordered payment plan or couldn't because of compelling circumstances
- Have not been convicted of another crime, including disorderly persons offenses
- Can show that you have compelling circumstances necessitating the expungement
The waiting period for a traditional expungement is typically five years after completing your sentence for a disorderly persons offense or an indictable offense. Under the early pathway option, the waiting period is four years for an indictable offense and three years for a disorderly persons offense. The waiting period begins once you've completed your sentence, including paying all fines or meeting the payment plan requirement.
As part of the early pathway expungement, the court needs to find that there are compelling reasons to grant an early expungement. Without proof of compelling circumstances, the court will not approve your application. You must show that your decisions, accomplishments, behavior, and character since your convictions indicate that you aren't likely to commit additional crimes in the future.
As part of this analysis, the judge will examine why an expungement will benefit society and you, including opportunities that may open up for you concerning career moves, job training, education, community involvement, volunteer work, and participating in sports. The judge will also look at your past crimes, whether there were any mitigating or aggravating circumstances, traffic violations, and who you associate with, including whether you've attempted to remove yourself from people with criminal backgrounds. The analysis will also include your obligations to your family, including children and child support.
As part of a successful early pathway application, you'll need to give the court evidence that your criminal record impedes your ability to lead a law-abiding life and better yourself and your family. For example, if you cannot volunteer as a little league coach because of your conviction, or if you can't obtain a new job or career. The court does not have to grant an expungement. As a result, an experienced expungement attorney can give you the best chance to ensure that your arguments, evidence, and presentation to the court are persuasive.
Clean Slate Expungement in New Jersey
In 2019, the New Jersey legislature created the “clean slate” pathway as the state's newest expungement option. Under the clean slate option, you can expunge your entire criminal record. You must only wait ten years after completing your sentence and paying all fines. The clean slate pathway can be an option even if you were ineligible to expunge your record under the traditional pathway because you've previously expunged a conviction or you have multiple indictable offenses. However, some indictable offenses like murder and sexual assault are not eligible for expungement under either the traditional expungement pathway or the clean slate option.
Under the new law, the courts will eventually automatically expunge eligible offenses and stop accepting petitions. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-5.3, -5.4 (2019). The state launched the new eCourts Expungement System in January of 2021. However, the system isn't yet automatically expunging eligible offenses. Once expungements become automatic, the new system will automatically expunge court and arrest records after ten years with no arrests or convictions. To determine the best expungement pathway for you, an experienced New Jersey expungement lawyer like Joseph D. Lento can guide you.
Waiting Periods for Expungements
The waiting periods under the traditional expungement pathway vary depending on the severity of the crime and whether a court convicted you. Expungement waiting periods include:
- Indictable Offense: Five years or four years under the early pathway option
- Disorderly Persons Offenses: Five years or three years under the early pathway option
- Ordinance Violations: Two years
- Juvenile Delinquency: Five years
- Controlled Dangerous Substance: The waiting period is one year for young offenders with a CDS conviction.
- Arrest Without Conviction: No waiting period or six months if the dismissal was the result of a diversionary program
Crimes Ineligible for Expungement in New Jersey
Some crimes in New Jersey are never eligible for expungement through any pathway. These crimes include:
- Human trafficking
- Criminal restraint
- Aggravated criminal sexual assault
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Luring or enticing
- Endangering the welfare of a child if based on sexual contact
- False swearing
- Arson and related offenses
- Possessing or producing chemical weapons, biological agents, or nuclear or radiological devices
- Criminal sexual contact with a minor
- Photographing or filming a child in a prohibited sexual act or for portrayal in a sexually suggestive manner
- Distributing, possessing with the intent to distribute, or using a file-sharing program to store items depicting the sexual exploitation or abuse of a child
- Causing or permitting a child to engage in a prohibited sexual act or the simulation of an act, or to be portrayed in a sexually suggestive manner
- Leading a child pornography network
- Possessing or viewing items depicting the sexual exploitation or abuse of a child
- Criminal homicide, except death by auto
See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2. Any convictions for conspiracy to commit any of the listed crimes are also ineligible for expungement. Moreover, you can't expunge any convictions for motor vehicle-related violations under Title 39, including DUI and speeding.
New Jersey Expungements and Background Checks
It's important to note that your records will still exist after an expungement in New Jersey. The state doesn't destroy your records, but they are only accessible in very limited circumstances. The New Jersey State Police must limit access to your records, and the FBI must remove your records from their database under federal law. New Jersey courts won't release your expunged records to anyone without a court order. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-19 (2009).
However, thousands of private databases, often accessed online, may contain information about your arrests or convictions. If your criminal history does appear in a background check, you should find out which company ran the check. New Jersey law allows the state to charge and fine anyone who discloses your records after your expungement. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-30 (2009). The statute states:
Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, any person who reveals to another the existence of an arrest, conviction or related legal proceeding with knowledge that the records and information pertaining thereto have been expunged or sealed is a disorderly person. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 2C:43-3, the maximum fine which can be imposed for violation of this section is $200.00.
An experienced expungement attorney can help you clean up private databases by notifying companies and requesting that they remove your records.